Authorities have often asked the general public to remain vigilant and alert regarding terrorism, but just as often, the public has responded: “Remain vigilant and alert for what?” This article is intended to provide information that will help YOU to help US in our everyday effort to identify and stop terrorism – before it becomes a deadly and tragic reality.

Who are the terrorists?

Many terrorists are directed by countries or groups outside the United States. However, terrorists can also be US citizens (often called “extremists”) who target the government, minorities, or foreign populations within the US. Whoever the terrorists are, and wherever they come from, they share one thing in common: they use unlawful force or violence in order to try to coerce and/or force a government or population to modify its philosophy and direction.

Pre-Incident indicators

Acts of terrorism are usually well planned months or even years in advance. While the activities of terrorists and extremists are very subtle and covert, their attacks are often preceded by activities known as Pre-Incident Indicators. Pre-Incident Indicators can include a number of “signature” crimes – such as ID theft and burglary – but can also include seemingly harmless activities, such as taking photographs, renting apartments, or making large cash purchases. Terrorists also conduct surveillance of their targets, beginning well in advance of an attack and often continuing until just prior to the attack.

What are some characteristics of terrorists?

  • Typically focused and committed to their cause
  • Team-oriented and very disciplined
  • Trained to be familiar with their physical environment, whether is be a 747 jumbo jet or a courthouse.
  • Will employ a variety of vehicles and communicate predominately by cell phone, E-Mail, or text messaging services
  • Well prepared to spend years in a “sleeper mode” until it is time to attack
  • In many cases, will try to fit in and not draw attention to themselves
  • May appear “normal” in their appearance and behavior while portraying themselves as a tourist, student, or businessperson
  • May be found traveling in a mixed group of men, women, and children of varying ages, who are unaware of their purpose
  • Trained to avoid confrontation with law enforcement and therefore can be expected to project a “nice-guy” image
  • Known to use disguises or undergo plastic surgery, especially when featured on police wanted posters

How do terrorists gain support?

Terrorists gain support for their cause through a number of open and closed meetings, and they share information about their cause though:

  • Public rallies, demonstrations, and private meetings sponsored by support groups
  • Posters, leaflets, web sites, or underground press publications

How do terrorists prepare of their “Mission”?

In order to prepare for their mission, members of terrorist organizations routinely:

  • Conduct and participate in military-type maneuvers, demolition exercises, and weapons training
  • Review and practice tactical training, including the use of communications equipment, tactical weapons, and/or weapons of mass destruction
  • Attend, participate in, and practice spiritual indoctrination (to prepare for fanatical self-sacrifice)
  • Attend, participate in, and practice self-defense courses, flight training, HazMat training and SCUBA training

How do terrorists move within our community?

Terrorists seek to blend in with the surrounding community, often establishing their existence through a new identity. Terrorists tend to establish and maintain their new identity through:

  • Obtaining counterfeit or altered driver’s licenses
  • Altering vehicle registrations
  • Carrying suspicious or forged identity documents
  • Possessing photocopies of original identification documents (driver’s licenses, passports, birth certificates, social security cards, etc)
  • Establishing numerous residences through leased or rented property, or by staying in numerous hotels
  • Carrying large amounts of cash and/or using cash payments for items that the average citizen might purchase with credit

How do terrorists support their cause?

Without adequate funding, terrorists cannot conduct their mission. Terrorists will therefore rely on easily obtainable, but illegal funding. Law enforcement personnel refer to these criminal activities as “signature crimes of terrorism”, which include:

  • Committing credit card fraud
  • Producing and selling bogus prepaid telephone calling cards
  • Selling stolen property or property bought with a stolen credit card
  • Counterfeiting currency and credit cards
  • Participating in coupon fraud
  • Committing bank, mail, telephone, visa and immigration fraud
  • Transporting and selling drugs

What to look for

What kinds of things might the public encounter that could indicate terrorism support or terrorist activity?

Intelligence collection practices:

  • Photographing, diagramming, or obtaining photographs, diagrams, or blueprints of infrastructure or potential targets (bridges, power grid/plants, water plants, federal/government buildings, etc.)
  • Possessing or purchasing maps of potential targets
  • Possessing or purchasing global positioning systems (GPS)
  • Walking, biking, or driving in or near potential targets, without a specific and valid reason (may indicate surveillance, trial runs, testing of the target’s security system, or testing of how authorities respond to their actions)
  • Blueprints (subject may have no affiliation to architecture)

Theft of large cash purchases of

  • Cameras and other surveillance equipment
  • Baby formula
  • Cigarettes
  • Beer/wine/liquor
  • Uniforms (military, police, pilot, delivery, etc)
  • Weapons/explosive materials
  • Vehicles (to include rentals – fraudulent name; or failure to return vehicle)
  • Identify documents (State IDs, passports, etc)
  • Radios: short-wave, two-way and scanners
  • Unauthorized uniforms

Suspicious rentals of

  • Storage facilities/warehouses
  • Residences
  • Apartments
  • Hotels/motels
  • Vehicles

Unusual discoveries of

  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Communication equipment (emergency band radios, hand-held radios, prepaid cell phones and prepaid calling cards)
  • Large amount of consumable goods, such as baby formula, cigarettes, or beer/wine/liquor
  • Large amount of medicines, especially over-the-counter
  • Large amount of clothing, especially Levi jeans
  • Identity documents (passports, birth certificates, social security cards, driver licenses – either originals or copies
  • Training manuals: flight, SCUBA, explosive, military, or extremist literature
  • Photos/pictures of known terrorists
  • Multiple hotel receipts
  • Financial records indicating overseas wire transfers
  • Rental vehicles (cash transactions on receipts; living locally but renting)

Potential props

  • Baby stroller or shopping cart
  • Suspicious bag/backpack, golf bag
  • Bulky vest or belt

Passport History

  • Recent travel overseas to countries that sponsor terrorism
  • Multiple passports with different countries/name (caution: suspect may have dual citizenship)
  • Altered passport numbers or photo substitutions; pages may have been removed

Other identification

  • No current or fixed address
  • Fraudulent/altered Social Security cards, visas, licenses, etc
  • Multiple IDs with names spelled differently


  • No obvious signs of employment
  • Possess student visa but not English proficient
  • An indication of military type training in weapons or self-defense

Possible Suicide Bomber Indicators – A.L.E.R.T.

  • Alone and nervous
  • Loose and/or bulky clothing (may not fit weather conditions)
  • Exposed wires (possibly through sleeve)
  • Rigid mid-section (explosive device or may be carrying a rifle)
  • Tightened hands (may hold detonation device)

Recruitment Techniques – CAUTION: the following factors, which may constitute activity protected by the United States Constitution, should only be considered in the context of other suspicious activity and not be the sole basis of suspicion.

  • Public demonstration and rallies
  • Information about new groups forming
  • Posters, fliers, and underground publications


It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the time or location of a terrorist attack without adequate information. The only sure way to prevent such attacks is by gathering and acting upon intelligence in a timely matter and by sharing that information with other law enforcement agencies. Our best tool in the war on terrorism is you, the public.

Many of these activities, in and of themselves, may not indicate criminal activity. Taken together, however, they may be a cause for concern. If you observe people acting suspiciously, don’t hesitate to contact local law enforcement.

If you have suspicions in your community about any of the Pre-Incident Indicators referenced in this material, you should obtain as much information as possible without putting yourself in harm’s way. Provide the following information to law enforcement:

  • Date, time, and location of the incident
  • Physical identifiers of the person or persons
  • Any vehicle descriptions
  • Description of the suspicious activity

The best way to combat terrorism is to arm yourself with accurate information and basic emergency preparedness to face a wide variety of threats. It is important that you remain calm, be vigilant, and follow instructions from local officials.

If there is a Terrorist Attack

  • Stay calm.
  • Be alert. Be aware of your surroundings. Watch for falling debris or additional attacks.
  • Follow the instructions of emergency service personnel in the area.
  • If you are at home or at work, listen to local TV and radio for instructions and travel information.


  • If you see something, say something. Whether you are on a bus, plane or are just walking around town. If you see something suspicious or if something just does not seem right, notify the authorities by calling 9-1-1 or the non-emergency number for your jurisdiction.

If There is an Explosion:

  • Take shelter against your desk or a sturdy table.
  • Exit the building ASAP.
  • Do not use elevators.
  • Check for fire and other hazards.
  • Take your emergency supply kit if time allows.

If There is a Fire:

  • Exit the building ASAP.
  • Crawl low if there is smoke
  • Use a wet cloth, if possible, to cover your nose and mouth.
  • Use the back of your hand to feel the upper, lower, and middle parts of closed doors.
  • If the door is not hot, brace yourself against it and open slowly.
  • If the door is hot, do not open it. Look for another way out.
  • Do not use elevators
  • If you catch fire, do not run. Stop-drop-and-roll to put out the fire.
  • If you are at home, go to a previously designated meeting place.
  • Account for your family members and carefully supervise small children.
  • Never go back into a burning building.

If You Are Trapped in Debris:

  • If possible, use a flashlight to signal your location to rescuers.
  • Avoid unnecessary movement so that you don't kick up dust.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with anything you have on hand. (Dense-weave cotton material can act as a good filter. Try to breathe through the material.)
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so that rescuers can hear where you are.
  • If possible, use a whistle to signal rescuers.
  • Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause a person to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

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